On Aug. 12, 2003, 19-year-old John P. Vega and his buddy Hugo Rivera got into a fight with the man they were staying with, a longtime friend they affectionately called “Grandpa.”
According to court records, the 38-year-old Grandpa, whose real name was Raul Aplizar Jimenez, was high on methamphetamine and Vega and Rivera claimed he had attacked Rivera with a knife. Then, in what they described to investigators as self-defense, Vega and Rivera bludgeoned to death their much smaller friend with a 30-pound dumbbell and a crowbar.
When the beating was over, there was blood spattered all over the walls of Jimenez’s home, court records show. His corpse lay face down in a pool of blood, his hands bound with shoelaces. The tools of his slaughter were hidden beneath a white pillow just a few feet from his battered skull, the records show.
Police charged Vega and Rivera with second-degree murder, and a jury later convicted them of voluntary manslaughter. Vega was sentenced to six years in state prison for his part in the crime and was let out on parole on March 30, 2012.
At some point within the next nine months, Vega, who has never registered to vote and spent the majority of his adult life in prison, went to work as a political consultant for Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, according to Pulido's campaign finance disclosure forms. The forms show Pulido's campaign paying John P. Vega Consulting $4,300 for phone bank services.
However, there are no other public records showing that John P. Vega Consulting even exists.
A Voice of OC check found no record of John P. Vega Consulting incorporating with the state. And there is no business license for the firm on record at Santa Ana City Hall, which is required of all businesses that operate within the city limits.
Finally, if Pulido’s disclosure forms are to be believed, Vega operated the business out of a home in the Townsend/Raitt neighborhood of Central Santa Ana. The city requires special permits for home-based businesses. No such permit was ever issued to John P. Vega Consulting.
'A Lot of Money' for Phone Banking
One local campaign consultant, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled hearing about a John P. Vega Consulting, but that was in 2006 when Vega was serving time in state prison.
The consultant also expressed surprise at the more than $13,000 Pulido reported spending in total on phone banking services, though the consultant said it could have amounted to that much if Vega was hired to organize a major live phone banking operation.
"That's a lot of money to spend on phone banking," the consultant said. "A lot of money."
Things get even more strange when considering Pulido reported $6,000 in phone banking expenses to Vega the individual in the January through June 2013 timeframe.
That means Pulido is claiming Vega performed phone bank services -- essentially a get-out-the-vote operation -- at least two months after the election was over. Under state law, the expenses must be reported when the services are received. It is possible the $6,000 constituted an election "success fee" that wasn't due until after the election.
The only public insights into Vega's business dealings come from his Facebook page, where he has several posts about a mobile hookah party business he cofounded with his friends called Bring Da Fire.
There are no posts about his political consulting business. However, he did post a photo from a Spanish language newspaper featuring a group of what the caption says are volunteers for Pulido's 2012 reelection campaign. Vega is seen standing in the background.
If Pulido misreported any of these payments, he could have violated the 1974 Political Reform Act. The disclosure forms are also signed under penalty of perjury.
The payments could also represent another chapter in an ongoing Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) investigation into whether Pulido illegally wiped away campaign debts from his disclosure forms.
Pulido in 2013 claimed he owed thousands of dollars to Vega, Rumores Spanish Newspaper, his primary campaign consultant Dennis DeSnoo, and a sound production company. The editor of the newspaper said Pulido was dodging his debt and the owner of the sound company said Pulido didn't pay off his debt until a reporter called asking questions about it.
In 2014, Pulido omitted the debt from his campaign finance filings as if they never existed.
Following a Voice of OC article on the missing campaign debt, a complaint was filed with the FPPC. Pulido subsequently amended his forms to show that his reelection campaign still owes $5,000 to Vega the individual, among other debts.
FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said candidates must keep “adequate and complete records” so that their campaign committees can be audited.
Voice of OC attempts to reach Vega were unsuccessful. A phone number he listed on his Facebook page was disconnected. He didn't return a Facebook message seeking comment, and he wasn’t home when a reporter knocked on his door. Pulido also didn't return a phone call and emails for comment.
Vega appears to have had little experience in politics prior to 2012, but his family connections could explain how he ended up on Pulido's campaign reports.
His father, Alex Vega, is an old friend of Jimenez, the man John P. Vega killed, according to John P. Vega's statements to investigators. Jimenez had also served time in San Quentin, he told investigators.
Alex Vega is also a longtime Pulido supporter and political operative.
According to the mayor’s disclosure forms, Alex Vega was paid $1,000 for phone bank services in the 2012 reporting period before John P. Vega Consulting was paid. In 2010, Alex Vega co-founded a committee that sponsored a Spanish newspaper attack on Alfredo Amezcua, Pulido's opponent in that year's mayoral election.
Despite their history together, relations might have recently soured between Pulido and Alex Vega.
Alex Vega spoke with a Voice of OC reporter in a frenzied and erratic mood outside a City Council meeting earlier this month, saying Pulido still owed him $40,000 from the 2005 campaign for a referendum to approve construction of the 37-story tower known as One Broadway Plaza.
He also accused Pulido and One Broadway Plaza developer Michael F. Harrah of trying to evict him from his residence in a small run-down commercial building at 843 N. Broadway, which is adjacent to the One Broadway Plaza development site.
After that, he denied the statements he had just made regarding the One Broadway Plaza campaign, and said he wasn’t “making any accusations.”
Alex Vega wouldn't say whether John P. Vega is his son, but records indicate otherwise. John P. Vega's birth certificate states that his father is Alejandro Vega, which is Alex Vega's full Spanish name.
When asked about John P. Vega’s work for the mayor, Alex Vega denied that his son had ever worked for the mayor’s campaign. Then he reversed course, saying John P. Vega was happy with the arrangement and that Pulido paid his children better than himself.
When pressed further about Pulido’s payments to his son, Alex Vega walked off, tapped his cane on the Civic Center pavement and repeatedly shouted, “Miguel [Pulido] is the best thing to happen to Santa Ana!”